Space Technology

Collaboration between ground stations is opening the path for groundbreaking space missions

After coming uniting to help Astroscale, a startup a few months away from completing the world’s first privately financed debris-removal experiment, ground station suppliers foresee a new era of partnership. Astroscale’s ELSA-d venture in low Earth orbit, which consists of a smaller client satellite and a servicer spacecraft that will serve as a piece of trash, will require a total of 16 ground stations to supply the connectivity it requires.

Typically, just one or even two ground stations are required for an LEO mission. Astroscale’s two spaceships were deployed on a Soyuz-2 rocket on March 22 and are still performing testing in readiness for a set of maneuvers later this year that will show off the startup’s capabilities.

The Tokyo-centered venture’s ground station located in Japan collaborates with the other ground stations worldwide, managed by Viasat and Atlas Space Operations in United States, KSAT in Norway, and SSC in Sweden. According to officials from these ground station firms speaking at the Small Satellite Conference on August 10, this level of integration necessitates software virtualization capabilities that the sector has only lately accepted.

At a conference side discussion, John Williams, who serves as the vice president in charge of the Real-Time Earth section of Viasat, said, “The difference from where we were five years ago to where we are today is very substantial.” “And that the software, in our situation, virtualization and automation of practically everything at an antenna level, made it really easy for us to collaborate with Astroscale and other people. That would have been considerably more difficult just several years ago when many parts were still on the hardware, and they had to be programmed.” According to Alexandra Gravereaux, senior ground systems engineer at Astroscale, this means Astroscale can utilize a single interface to receive information on its spacecraft from all of its ground station partners as well as send commands to direct them in space.

Dan Adams, KSAT’s head of US sales, adding, “The second thing to emphasize is that all of us are together bringing improved efficiency levels.” “More access levels, higher dependability to satisfy those key mission activities that permit operations such as on-orbit robotics, where there may have been a concern whether or not one would be able to connect your spacecraft at any point in the past…”

Against the environment of COVID-19, panelists discussed how, despite the project’s high technical demands, they were yet to meet Astroscale’s Gravereaux in person. SSC’s project manager in charge of the ELSA-d mission, Brian Priar, claimed it would have been “nearly impossible to do just 5 years ago” to prepare and perform the mission totally remotely.

According to KSAT’s Adams, “the integration of the four distinct ground networks to serve one mission is absolutely an illustration of where we’re likely to find the LEO space economy headed.”

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